Nearly 35 years have passed since Henry Clay defeated DeSales for the big-school title in 1981. A public Lexington school hasn’t won a football championship since; Lafayette got closer than any school this century before falling to a historically dominant Male team in the finals, 41-14, last December.
Despite trailing in each of their four playoff games leading up to the finals, the scrappy, free-wheeling Generals whipped out their rabbit’s feet and survived: an 82-yard fumble recovery against Dunbar; a scorching flip-the-field run in the final minutes against Henry Clay; a 60-yard fake punt completion at Scott County; a second-half shutout of a potent Simon Kenton squad. The 2015 Generals at times were magicians as much as they were football players.
Lafayette knows what got it to the state finals last season, so it only makes sense to run it back. This time around, though, the Generals hope to leave Bowling Green with the school’s first football championship trophy in tow.
Top of the class
Graduation stripped Lafayette of some notable names — Mason Alstatt, Javarius Robinson, Daquis Sharp and Landon Young among them — but it returns the bulk of a team that went 12-3 last year.
At the top of the class is Jedrick Wills — a five-star offensive tackle ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 17 overall recruit in the class of 2017 — whose numerous offers include Alabama, Kentucky and Notre Dame. He’s the figurehead of an offensive line that should still be the envy of many across the state despite losing Young, who’s now at UK. Alex Simpson — another Division I prospect who’s ranked sixth in the state by 247Sports — and Will Bischoff, an all-state honorable mention, also return up front.
“Everybody that’s playing this year played last year,” Wills said of Lafayette’s line play. “We’re losing Landon which is a big piece, but Alex is gonna step in there at left tackle, I’m gonna stay at right and we’re still gonna get the job done.”
Not far behind in personal notoriety is Walker Wood, a three-star dual-threat quarterback who committed to the University of Kentucky as an “athlete” last October. Wood is the only Class 6A quarterback to finish as a top-10 passer and rusher in each of the last two seasons, and it seems like a good bet he’ll make it three in a row.
The off-the-field attention is tempered by their personalities; both Wills and Wood are as carefree as they come. There’s a youthful positivity throughout the Generals’ roster, and those two complete — if not spearhead — the focused-but-fun-loving approach.
“When we’re in the locker room and out on the field, we try to stay away from the recruiting scene and all the big stuff going around,” Wood said. “ … We’re more worried about having fun with each other these four years that we’ve been here.”
Walker Wood’s career stats Passing 358-for-633 (56.6 percent) 5,365 yards 44 TDs Rushing 466 carries 2,878 yards 42 TDs
His UK scholarship offer is as an “athlete,” but Wood intends to compete for the quarterback position regardless of whatever other high-profile talent is on campus come next fall.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s committed, who’s de-committed,” Wood said. “I’m gonna focus on myself and go in and compete for the position.”
Wood likes already knowing where he’s headed to play football next season. That means it’s less of a distraction for him, which in turn helps Lafayette.
“They don’t have to worry about what I’m thinking about,” Wood said.
Wills, one of the highest-ranked recruits Kentucky has ever produced, hasn’t yet made a college choice and speaks dismissively of it. A decision will come when he’s ready; meanwhile, he’s all-in with the Generals.
Asked if he’s in Wills’ ear trying to sell him on a Lafayette reunion with Young and himself about a mile from their high school campus, Wood laughed.
“He’s his own little cookie and he’s gonna do his own thing,” Wood said.
Both players will undoubtedly be up for Mr. Football consideration when the time comes. Wood might be the odds-on favorite thanks to his impressive stats, glamour position and UK commitment. Being one of the most prolific recruiting prospects in state history gives Wills a boost despite primarily playing on the offensive line (a position group that seldom gets love from voters). Either would be the first player from a Lexington school to take home the honor since it was established in 1986.
Of course, that’s all so much dressing surrounding a promising season.
“I haven’t really read too much on it,” Wills said. “I just hear from other people and I just say thank you and keep it moving. I’m not too worried about Mr. Football or anything like that.
“Last year we fell short of the state championship and we’re coming for the ring.”
‘Last year’s done’
Senior defensive lineman Xavier Douglas didn’t mince words when speaking about his class of Generals.
“We’re probably the best group to come out of Lafayette so far,” Douglas said.
Before last season, Lafayette had only made the state finals twice before — in 1985 under Tom Fee and 1960 under Roy Walton. Should this year’s edition make a repeat appearance, it would give the seniors ample ammunition to support Douglas’ thesis and silence “haters” who feel last season’s run was based more on luck than team will.
Last year’s fun run — and subsequent heartbreak — will definitely be a motivator.
“They have that taste in their mouth,” Coach Eric Shaw said. “We came up short in the state finals and that’s another opportunity for us to get better from and learn from.”
Lafayette went 3-8 in Shaw’s first season with no wins against Lexington teams. Since then the Generals have gone 20-7 and 9-2 against city foes (including a win over Lexington Catholic). That level of success seems sustainable for the foreseeable future; entering the season Lafayette’s freshman team boasted about 40 members, more than last season.
Shaw expects younger kids’ interest in his program to only keep growing.
“I think that’s the key to any successful program; you’ve got to look at the freshman team,” Shaw said. “ … Those that want to play here want to come and they’re working their butts off. That’s an indicator of what the future holds.”
The immediate future is of greater concern to a team looking to complete a dream no Fayette County public school has realized in their lifetimes. Many Generals think the same level of effort and intensity — if not more so — will be required to make that vision a reality.
What they accomplished last season was terrific, but how they respond in the face of success might be the ultimate test.
“Last year’s done,” Shaw said. “It’s what you do this year that matters.”
2016 High school football preview